Author’s Note: Here in the United States, today is Inauguration Day for our 46th President. My thoughts come from my reflection on my nation’s struggles, but I pray that they speak to yours as well.
Today I remembered a Christmas carol we sang just a few weeks ago, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The lyrics were penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, some of which are below:
“It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
There has been a seismic shift in our world. It feels as though there has been an earthquake, where the very heart of the homes – the hearthstones – are cracked and damaged. Where there were allies, there are enemies. Everyone – nations, cities, and families are ill at ease. The level of distrust, rancor and anger disturbs us. How do we, as people of faith, engage in a time such as this? How do we approach the tumult, knowing that when we rise up against bigotry and prejudice, that we will face the anger of our neighbors?
In my circuits among my hospice patients and families, and then in church, I hear the threads of worry. Who do we trust? Whose words are true? With deception in the highest levels of governments around the world, what will be the future of our children’s children? How will we care for our world and its fragile ecosystem? What will we do for the needy, the hungry, the hurting, the sick?
It is easy to cast blame. To pick “the other side” in the political or theological equation and claim that they have created the issues we face. There is deep division on a global scale. There has been outright corruption, and power-grabbing moments that stun us. Even the most partisan observer is shocked by the events in the world over the last month. An attempted coup-d’état. Genocide of ethnic minorities. Climate fueled floods, wildfires and storms. Nuclear threats. Deliberate lies to mislead and divide a democratic society.
I confess I have been angry. My words have been less than conciliatory. The abuse of power and intentional pain inflicted on Black and Brown people by white supremacists sickens me to my core. We are learning how many who hold these beliefs are in elected offices or serve as first responders. The cancer of bigotry lies deep underground in our neighborhoods and local governments and is being exposed to the light of Truth.
I am called in my work, in my position as clergy, to stand up to this hate. To be silent is to condone the violence. I have benefited from my race, my upbringing, and my education. I have witnessed the trauma of my neighbors. I have heard the stories of my patients who were raised in “red-lined” neighborhoods, who were bussed to inferior schools. Institutionalized racism is in every workplace, in every business, in every school. I witness the disparities in their access to excellent health care, the latest treatments for COVID-19 left to a privileged few.
But… I am also called to repentance. To examine my own motives and my own self-deception. The filth and evil in my heart is just as damaging as the ranting of the mob at the US Capitol.
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (James 1: 19-21, New Living Translation)
Last night I lit a candle and prayed for the lives lost to COVID-19. Today and moving forward, I believe that we are Called as the Church to repair the seams of pain and trauma we have witnessed. We must model hope in these times of fear, love in the midst of selfishness, humility in the face of greed. Threading the needle between angry retribution and easy forgiveness is difficult, even impossible. But the first step – repentance – is necessary.
President Abraham Lincoln wrote a Proclamation for a National Fast Day as the United States was midway through the Civil War. He challenged the people to turn from partisan rancor to self-reflection and prayer:
We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! (March 30, 1863)
I will stumble and fail. I will lose courage. But I serve a God who is present and accompanies me on this road to reconciliation. I can sing Longfellow’s words again, with more confidence and hope in the One who created us, loves us, and guides us:
” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Rev. Deborah Vaughn, BCC is a chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists. She lives with her family in Maryland and presently serves as a hospice chaplain and in pulpit supply. She is a herder of cats, and remains a die-hard Ohio State fan. You can find more of her writing at An Unfinished Symphony.
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